Learning the craft

Such a busy time of year if you work in education! I hadn’t realised it was so long since I last posted here, but I’ve not been idle with the writing side of my life. I’m still at the research stage of The Salt Man, and thoroughly enjoying it. In October I spent a couple of weekends at Chedworth Roman villa in Gloucestershire, just on the far side of Cirencester from here. They run some wonderful craft sessions, so I attended a couple of workshops on tablet weaving and mosaic making. It’s a great way to get the sense of how some of the things we see in museums now were made, and to appreciate the skills of the people who made them.

green man closeupThe picture to the left is my first attempt at a mosaic, which I made at the workshop – it’s meant to be a Green Man with a bee in his beard, but I made all kinds of mistakes! Not enough definition around the mouth and face; the beard tesserae are too similar in colour and I tried to get too much detail in the hair leaves. Nothing like making mistakes when learning though! So I had another go at home and thought I’d try to do something simpler while I learn. Also, I’m fascinated by the geometric designs on roman villa floors, so I thought I’d try the twisted rope design.

mosaic rope closeupIt turned out to be harder than it looks 🙂 The tops and bottoms of the loops ended up with different radii, even though I used the same template top and bottom when I sketched the rope on the board. So the bottom part of the rope looks more pointy than the top part. But, outside of that I’m quite pleased with this result, as I learned so much again. The tesserae are still too far apart I think, which you can tell from the visible blobs of grout in places. I wonder how long mosaic artists were apprentices? Judging from my attempts, quite a long time! My next project is a sign for my son’s new business, so I’m motivated to try to make a good job of it.

braids smallTablet weaving is a fascinating craft, and one that is very difficult to understand without a loom and tablets in front of you. Well, it was for me, anyway. It works by threading warp threads through tablets with holes in them, and then loading a table loom with the warp threads. The weft thread pulls the warp threads together to make the pattern, which is altered by turning the tablets between each pass of the weft. Told you it was difficult to understand without seeing it! The result is a very decorative and very strong braid, of the types shown in the picture on the left. Again, it’s a craft that takes a lot of practice, both in setting up the pattern in the first place, and in actually carrying out the weave.  You can see my mistakes quite clearly in the picture. The top braid is meant to be an arrowhead design, and the bottom one was an attempt at a roman key design. Ah well, another apprenticeship looms I think! Sorry about the pun 😦

Braids and mosaics both feature prominently in the story of The Salt Man, so I’ll keep at my apprenticeships I think. The more I can understand the crafts, the more the story comes to life for me 🙂

Pen on paper

closed book on tableI use computers all the time and wouldn’t dream of going back to writing on paper as a matter of course. The convenience of word processing, and being able to blog and tweet to my heart’s content, is a wonderful convenience.

But, that doesn’t mean I have lost the thrill of a blank, fresh, crisp piece of paper, just waiting to take its first mark. I love stationery shops too. Ranks of coloured paper, card, pens, markers, envelopes… mmmmmmm. My writing improves when I’m in one of these moods;  a nice plump pen with a good grip and a smooth roller tip just sliding over paper in a notebook, leaving a satisfying trail of words. The writing changes the nature of the paper, too. It feels fuller, completed, and sounds muted when the pages are turned. I love to just feel the pages. To leaf through them and listen to the words rustling on the page.

So you can imagine my delight when, in a magic shop in Glastonbury, I found a deep green leather-bound book of hand-made paper, with a scarlet velvet inside cover. Blank. Empty. Waiting. It’s by my side as I write this now, and I can hardly wait to start writing in it. But I will wait. In the book I’m currently writing, The Salt Man, archaeologists find a journal. When I’ve completed the journal part of the book on my computer, my beautiful leather book with a Green Man embossed on the soft leather cover will contain the hand-written version. And I will enjoy the tactile, sensual experience of writing it in ink, on paper.  Because writing is a physical activity, as well as a mental one.

ash man and closed bookI wish I could carve wood. I greatly admire those who can. I’m amazed at how they can see a shape in the raw piece, and release it with saws and chisels. The picture on the right is of a carving in my garden created by Ian, a genius we met at a country fair. I love Green Men, and this ash branch had a rather grumpy one hiding in it. Ian found him, though.

Physical writing with a pen on paper is the nearest I can get to carving. It has a similar sense for me; seeing the shape of the words on the paper, and setting them loose to run across the page. It will take a lot of self-control not to start writing soon in my green book. But it will be worth the wait.